Ontario looking at gravelling

By John L. Braese

The Enterprise

A group is looking into using Malheur County’s seemingly endless network of roads to economic advantage by bringing in bike riders who like gravel.

“I first heard about the idea while attending a governor’s conference on tourism,” said John Breidenbach, president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Currently, we are forming a group to explore this and other ideas in outdoor recreation we can offer.”

A gravel bike is a road bike designed for riding on dirt roads. Looking much like the road bikes seen just two weekends ago during the Owyhee Hunger Ride, gravel bikes add a longer wheel base, a more upright sitting position, disc brakes and clearance for use of larger, knobby tires.

On the market for just a few years, the bikes are also being advertised as adventure bikes and all-road or all-terrain bikes.

Small towns like Dufur have already jumped on the wagon to attract cyclists riding the new bikes. The Kolb’s Oregon Stampede closed registration at 75 riders and had a long waiting list for people wanting to trek 123 miles and climb to 8,000 feet last year.

Breidenbach envisions a trail for riders stretching from the Succor Creek area to Leslie Gulch.

“We are looking at coming up with a plan to obtain grant money from Travel Oregon for routes and signage if there is interest,” he said. “We have so much to offer outdoor recreation wise and we are looking at a number of options.”

Riders visiting the area may need to make at least one accommodation.

With the abundance of puncture vine covering trails and roads, stopping to fix flat tires may be a nuisance.

“Most people doing this type of riding have switched to a tubeless set up for tires,” said Joe Heinz, owner of Eastern Oregon Cycles in Ontario. “The tire is a lot like a car tire with a latex-based sealant around the inside tube.”

Heinz said a few customers have requested information concerning trails in the area for both cycle cross and gravel bicycles.

“These bikes are becoming more popular and have a large following in other parts of the state,” he said. “We would need a trail system that is maintained before they become popular here.”

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